CLEVELAND (AP) — A nationwide program that allows fugitives accused of nonviolent crimes to safely surrender at churches has been eliminated by the U.S. Marshals Service because it didn’t fit the service’s mission of catching violent fugitives, a spokesman said.

More than 34,000 people in 20 cities have turned themselves in through Fugitive Safe Surrender, which got its start in Cleveland in 2005 in response to the killing of a police officer by a fugitive during a traffic stop.

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Spokesman Jeff Carter told The Plain Dealer of Cleveland for Sunday’s editions that the program cost $250,000 annually. Funding was dropped this year after a review of programs aimed at reducing violent crime.

“While Fugitive Safe Surrender’s goals were laudable, the agency could not sustain this unfunded initiative,” Carter said.

The program paired the marshals with other law enforcement agents and churches. It set a record in Cleveland in September when more than 7,400 fugitives surrendered in a four-day event, topping the roughly 6,600 who had turned themselves in at a Detroit church hosting the program in a 2008.

Safe Surrender events have been held in cities in Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Washington, D.C.

About 10 percent of those surrendering have faced felony charges, including rape, robbery, child abductions and murder, the newspaper reported.

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The program helped law enforcement officers avoid danger in “desperate encounters,” when a fugitive meets an officer
unexpectedly, said Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Joan Synenberg.

It started in response to the death of Cleveland officer Wayne Leon, who was shot in the head when he made a traffic stop of a man wanted for a parole violation.

“It’s extremely beneficial. People have continued to show up to put their lives back together, to live without looking over their shoulders,” said Daniel Flannery, the former director of the Institute for the Study and Prevention of Violence at Kent State University and author of a coming book on the program.

Mark Wolf, who surrendered in Cleveland in September, called the program a “godsend.” He was homeless and facing a possible four years in prison on a forgery charge. His surrender instead led him to probation and drug treatment.

“This is the type of program that needs to be picked up — by someone, absolutely,” said the Rev. C. Jay Matthews of Mount Sinai Church in Cleveland, where the first surrender event was held. “It has become a safe way to handle challenging moments.”

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